Did you know that dogs can get allergies too? Most dogs don’t sneeze and get runny noses like we do, they itch! This is a condition known as atopic dermatitis and based on the insurance claims submitted to the Veterinary Pet Insurance Company (VPI) it is in fact the number one condition that dogs saw the vet for in 2014. Skin allergies can be one of the most frustrating thing for pet owners and veterinarians to deal with since allergies can only be managed and not cured and can affect animals for their entire life time.
When your dogs allergies are acting up, it can not only be an annoyance keeping you and your pet up all night from the scratching, it can also result in serious skin infections. Your veterinarian can discuss long term management with allergy shots or immunosuppressive medication as well as antibiotics as necessary for secondary infections. Besides these medications, there are a few other things anyone with an allergic dog can do at home to help manage their pet’s condition.
Use Year Round Parasite Prevention- Flea allergies are considered to be the most common allergic disease in dogs. So, while year round parasite prevention is a good idea for all pets, it is essential for allergic animals. Even if you don’t see fleas, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. I recently had a dog, Nash, come in to be allergy tested. There was no evidence of any fleas or flea dirt at the time, but the test showed that he had recently been bitten by a flea and was allergic to them. Upon questioning, the owner admitted to skipping his flea preventative over the winter. Luckily, this hadn’t turned into an infestation, but it doesn’t take an infestation to create a big problem if your pet is allergic. Be aware, not all products are created equally. Some flea products are not as effective as others and some only kill fleas once they’ve bitten while others repel them. Some need to be used with caution around cats. Some over the counter flea and tick products can even be outright dangerous. Make sure you ask your veterinarian’s advice on which product is best for your pet.
Supplement Essential Fatty Acids- Allergic pets can also benefit from supplementation with essential fatty acids. In particular, the most benefit is seen with the Omega 3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. These nutrients are found in marine sources i.e. – fish oil. Fatty acids can help repair your dog’s skin and keep allergens out. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, and since inflammation can cause itchiness, reducing that inflammation can reduce itchiness. In addition, these supplements can reduce hair-loss and improve the over-all look of your pet’s coat.
Because fish oils over the counter are not regulated by the FDA, many products can contain more or less than the amount of EPA and DHA listed on the label. They may also contain ingredients that are not listed on the label. While these products for the most part are considered safe, using a medical grade product from your veterinarian will help to guarantee that your pet is getting exactly what they need.
Bathe Them Regularly- There are several great reasons to bathe your allergic dog. Make sure you get a medicated shampoo that can accomplish everything it needs to. The first, and most obvious reason to bathe your pet, is to remove pollens and other allergens from their coat. Reducing their exposure to the things they’re allergic to will help to reduce the severity of their symptoms.
If your pet has an active skin infection, certain shampoos can help with this too. You will want to use a shampoo that has an antibacterial and/or antifungal ingredient such as chlorhexidine and ketoconazole. Using topical treatment for infections is great since it has fewer side effects than oral antibiotics, and can limit the risk of developing antibiotic resistant infections.
Lastly, it has recently been shown that dogs with allergies have a dysfunction of their skin barrier. Topical ingredients in shampoos such as phytosphingosine and essential fatty acids can be used to help repair this barrier and keep allergens out.
When bathing your pet, use cool or lukewarm water, as hot water can exacerbate itching. Be sure to leave the shampoo on for at least 10-15 minutes. Start with the most affected areas first, and rinse them last to minimize the time you spend washing your pet, and maximize the contact time with the areas that need it. The frequency of shampooing can vary depending on the severity of your pet’s condition. On average, most dogs should be bathed 2-3 times weekly, especially at first. If you have trouble bathing your own pet, talk to your doctor or groomer about having them do it. After a few weeks of regular shampooing, if it is difficult to keep up the regime, your vet may be able to switch your pet from a shampoo to a leave-in product such as a mousse for some of the treatments.
Allergies are a pain in the you-know-what for you and your dog. These tips won’t prevent your dog from suffering the insufferable itch when allergy season comes around, but they will make it a little less painful and could lower the dosages of drugs needed to control their symptoms which is great for your dog’s health and your wallet. And who doesn’t love that?